BY JACK SHORT – Joshua Karl would have had to try pretty hard to end up in a place more different than Boca Grande. When he grew up here on the island, he went by Joshua Johnson, of the “harbor pilot” Johnsons. But as he prepares to turn 40, he does so as a designer in a hip enclave in New York City. He has cut and traced a path from here to there, working and designing for Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld and others.
Now he’s trying to bring a sense of tech savvy, sustainability, and style to the world of artisan products with a locally sourced and constructed series of hospitality accessories.
But the real genius of his designs is that he was able, in an answer to a challenge he set himself, to create a tote or carry for various beverages with a combination of notched walnut pieces that join together to create a frame over which a leather case is folded.
Cases that can carry craft beers, wine, champagne, coffee and cider are either available or coming soon. There are possible plans to work with a glass blower for whiskey tumblers.
Joshua said he’s always been a tinkerer – taking apart toys his parents bought him, trying to reassemble remote control cars to make them faster, and even when he began to break into fashion and accessory design, paying special attention to the technological side of the industry.
He was also interested in illustration, which he studied at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, earning his BFA.
Joshua said he knew he wanted to go to New York. He lived his share of the southwest Florida lifestyle, but never really became absorbed in fishing and boating the way some of his friends did. He’s come around on it now, and fishes during all of his visits to the island, but at the time he was pining for the cosmopolitan lifestyle.
He had been accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology, but on arriving in New York he met some contacts at an agency and showed his portfolio of designs to the right people. Calvin Klein hired Joshua as a digital artist.
He was part of one of the first teams to digitally render a line of clothing and add prints and graphics with the help of computers.
Joshua said he was happy to work in that capacity but had a passion for design. Calvin Klein moved him into a design position after he got the attention of the creative director, and he set up a meeting with CK higher ups.
He spent six months as a creative designer before, as he said, he turned enough heads to secure a full-time position designing belts and handbags before creating men’s accessories.
“It was a wonderful, creative time in my life,” he said.
Joshua had been running a business making backpacks during that time, and in late 2001 he left Calvin Klein.
He did freelance work for Kenneth Cole, worked for Marc Jacobs, among others before he made the tough decision to end his backpack business.
He moved to Oregon during a stint for a Nike-owned company and then worked for Nike, too.
But he returned to New York where, in 2008, he started thinking about design and tech, and how they could work together to make a more honest, durable, less ephemeral product than clothes that might only be meant for a season or two at best.
He had begun to think about his no-stitch system.
“I wanted to apply it to something,” he said. “I wanted to create a new way of forming accessories to products.”
He wanted, he said, to use tech to make production more effective, too. Even as a student, he always had a foot in the industrial side. When he was still a student, he worked for a pattern maker in Sarasota. He was struck by the integration of industrial design and fashion design.
“I love how things are put together,” he said, “the beautiful aesthetic they can have and still function.”
Joshua challenged himself to design something lasting and honest. He had studied plastic and cardboard materials, and knew he wanted to make something that would bridge fashion and industrial design, and which came from a burgeoning artisanal culture.
He collaborate with three other people to form Sixfold: Tom McKenzie, who he met here; Jason Adams, a friend from the East Village; and Janine Stankus, who he found during a search for someone who knew the ins and outs of social media and content creation.
After a successful Kickstarter Campaign and press in magazines like Cool Hunting, Outside, and Gear Hungry, he is confident about his products and the tech design that gives them momentum.
He’s a passionate advocate of sustainability, sourcing materials from nearby and manufacturing locally on small scale systems made possible by the design of the product, and a product that’s designed to last, to be permanent. And there’s something significant in the idea that as many of the products people use should be well designed and well made, rather than disposable.
“(Relying so much on disposable products,) it’s not sustainable,” he said. “Either we change, or we go to the wasteland with them.”
As he builds Sixfold, Joshua returns to Boca Grande with his son, Oliver, 6, and appreciates a tradition he didn’t before – fishing.
“He’s obsessed with fishing,” he said. “ … I have a much different appreciation for it now, fishing on a dock at Whidden’s, and seeing Isabella Joiner come out to play with my son. It’s very dreamy, very precious.”